Crohn’s Disease Sufferers
The human gut is one of the unsung heroes of the body. It is responsible for a wide range of tasks, from absorption of nutrients from food to waste elimination. It is even home to a host of gut microbes responsible for helping to maintain our health and wellness. When something goes wrong with our gut, the repercussions can be dramatic, even life-altering. Such is the case with Crohn’s disease.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease was first described back in 1932 by Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, for whom the condition is named. Dr. Leon Ginzburg and Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer also contributed. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the disease,
"Belongs to a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel diseases. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract."
The Mayo Clinic defines Crohn’s disease as,
"An inflammatory bowel disease … Inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people."
While it generally affects the small intestine and the colon, it can also affect any other part of the gastrointestinal tract, including the mouth.
Up to 780,000 people in America suffer from Crohn’s disease alone, not counting other inflammatory bowel diseases. The condition is not curable, but there are some treatments available that provide at least temporary relief.
What Causes Crohn’s Disease?
There is no clear cause of Crohn’s disease, but there are contributing factors that have been noted in many cases. Genetics does seem to play at least some role, with up to 20% of those suffering from the condition having a relative who also suffers from Crohn’s disease. Other factors that can influence whether a person develops the disease include the strength of their immune system, as well as environmental factors.
What Are the Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease?
Individuals suffering from Crohn’s disease can be subject to a wide range of potentially debilitating symptoms. These include diarrhea and abdominal cramps, as well as:
- Feelings of fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Bloody stool
- Weight loss
- Frequent bowel movements
Eventually, more severe symptoms can present, including perianal fistula-related pain and drainage. Joint inflammation, skin inflammation, internal ulcers and even shortness of breath are also reported as the disease progresses.
Patients suffering from Crohn’s disease should understand there are factors that may increase the severity of symptoms. For instance, smoking has been noted to increase the severity and discomfort of symptoms. Older patients often report more severe symptoms, regardless of the age at which Crohn’s disease first presented. Fungal infections, particularly yeast infections, are also notedly more common with Crohn’s disease.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Crohn’s Disease Sufferers?
The most common treatment for Crohn’s disease currently is dietary adjustment to add more fiber while reducing fat and dairy consumption. In addition to dietary changes, Crohn’s disease suffers can take a number of medications.
Anti-inflammatory medications are usually the first line of defense in order to reduce the inflammation responsible for causing the disease in the first place. Corticosteroids may also be used. Biologics augmented by the patient’s own immune system may also be used. In severe cases, surgery might be an option. 70% of Crohn’s patients may eventually need surgery.
How Can Might Stem Cell Therapy Help?
Stem cells have been heavily researched for several decades at this point, and their role in addressing inflammation within the body has been well documented.
Currently, a number of treatments are being developed, and the European Union has actually approved one autologous stem cell treatment specifically for treating Crohn’s disease, although the US FDA has not yet followed suit.
A clinical trial is currently ongoing in the US utilizing autologous stem cells harvested from patients’ bone marrow (hematopoietic autologous stem cells). CBS News also recently reported on an experimental stem cell treatment for Crohn’s sufferers in the UK which will last for about four years.
Indiana Polyclinic has also seen success using stem cells – allogeneic stem cells sourced from umbilical cord blood and tissue. A patient presented with colitis, with acute onset of abdominal pain. Initially, it was thought the patient suffered from appendicitis, but further examination via an abdominal CT revealed ileitis and likely Crohn’s disease. A single stem cell transfusion was administered that day, with complete disappearance of abdominal pain within just hours. All symptoms were gone within two days of the first transfusion. A second CT scan was conducted 10 days after the first treatment, and was completely normal. No medications of any sort, and no other treatments were administered, and the rapid remission could not be attributed to anything other than allogeneic stem cell transfusion.
Autologous vs. Allogeneic Stem Cells
Most of the studies and trials currently in progress utilize autologous stem cells. These are cells sourced from the patient’s own body. While common practice, these cells are not particularly well suited for healing the body due to a number of reasons, including:
- Age: A patient’s stem cells are the same age as their body, and lost much of their energy over time.
- Mutations: As stem cells age, they can accumulate damage and mutations. On reintroducing cultured autologous stem cells to the body, the patient’s own immune system may react negatively.
Allogeneic stem cells are different. These cells are cultured from umbilical cord blood and tissue. They are very young - pluripotent, in fact - and highly energetic. They also have no accumulated damage and are immune naïve, meaning they are essentially invisible to the body’s immune system and will not trigger an adverse reaction.
Note that the FDA has not approved stem cells for any use at the time of this writing, and any such treatments should be considered strictly experimental. Patients are also urged to choose a physician who understands the difference between autologous and allogeneic stem cells, and the reasons to use allogeneic stem cells rather than those harvested from the patient’s own body.